In August 2011, the Texas Supreme Court issued a ruling ending a 10-year-long custody battle. The justices ruled that it was in the boy's best interests to continue living with his father. This case demonstrates how a Texas court determines child custody matters by looking at the best interests of the child.
Details of the Custody Case
The parents in the case divorced in 2001 and mother won the right to determine the son's primary residence. In 2009, the father moved to modify the custody order, claiming that the mother had voluntarily relinquished custody of their son to him. The father further argued that his son was doing much better living with him in Norway — where the father was serving in the military — than he did when living with the mother. The father noted that the son was doing better in school and was no longer involved in gang activity.
The mother countered by claiming that she only intended the boy live with his father for a year, not permanently, and that she had moved to a better neighborhood so her son would not be involved in gang activity anymore if he lived with her.
The Texas Supreme Court upheld the ruling of the district court and awarded custody of the boy to the father, reasoning that the evidence supported the district court judge's ruling that living with the father was in the boy's best interest.
In 2005, the Texas state legislature enacted a law stating there is a rebuttable presumption of joint legal custody and that parents should work out custody matters themselves; allocating parental rights and responsibilities in a "Parenting Plan." However, when the parents cannot agree on how to share custody the court will decide for the parents.
Best Interest of the Child Factors
Texas judges are supposed to award custody based on what is best for the child involved. Judges look to the so-called " Holley factors" from the case Holley v. Adams for a list of factors to consider when making the determination of the child's best interests:
- The desires of the child
- The emotional and physical needs of the child, now and in the future
- The parental abilities of the individuals seeking custody
- The programs available to assist these individuals to promote the best interest of the child
- The plans for the child by these individuals or by the agency seeking custody
- The acts or omissions of the parent which may indicate the existing parent-child relationship is not a proper one
- Any excuse for the acts or omissions of the parent
A Texas judge has great discretion in determining the best interests of the child and is free to consider any relevant information that would help him or her determine the child's best interest; the list of Holley factors is not exhaustive. An appellate court will only overturn a district court's custody determination if there is no evidence to support the judge's determination of the child's best interest.